Planning Commission approvals for any new cell phone antennas from AT&T and T-Mobile were put on hold last week after the Planning Department found violations on several of the companies’ sites, Mission Loc@l has learned.
The violations and temporary hold on new antennas come at a time when opponents of cell phone antennas, backed by some supervisors, are aggressively fighting the extension of existing networks. The Planning Department’s decision to halt new sites and the outcome of a California Public Utilities Commission investigation could bolster the case to at least slow the installation of new antennas.
Senior planner Jonas Ionin confirmed that the Planning Department found violations on several sites where T-Mobile and AT&T have antennas. He said new antenna approvals are on hold until the companies abate their violations.
Ionin said such violations have happened in the past but are unusual, and planning staff are working with the service providers to help them achieve compliance. This could take several months.
“We take them seriously,” he said of the violations.
T-Mobile has applications to the Planning Commission to install antennas in several sites in the Mission, including the U.S. Bank building at 2601 Mission Street and a residential building at 2789 Harrison Street.
Ionin declined to name the sites where violations occurred or the nature of the violations because details are still emerging. The most common violations the department sees include antennas installed in a different location than stated in the application, and antennas installed without a permit.
T-Mobile plans to triple its antennas in the city from 582 to 1,530 in the next five years.
The company has attracted attention for similar violations in the past. The San Francisco Chronicle reported in 2008 that the California Public Utilities Commission began investigating T-Mobile for allegedly “putting new cell phone transmission sites throughout Northern California without complying with local building laws.”
The Public Utilities Commission investigation is ongoing and will provide details as they become available, said Christopher Chow, a spokesperson.
T-Mobile released a statement saying that the non-compliant sites found by the Planning Department were built years ago and were acquired from another company in 2005.
“We quickly met with SF planning to discuss modifying our antennas at these locations to bring them into compliance. T-Mobile is currently reviewing remediation options.”
AT&T did not comment by the time of publication.
Supervisor John Avalos introduced legislation Tuesday that would make it harder for providers who want to install wireless equipment on public property. The proposed law would require providers to pay more for permits for wireless equipment on utility polls and to post notice when they are trying to obtain a permit.
The legislation was introduced after residents in several districts complained that equipment was installed without their knowledge, said Frances Hsieh, a legislative aide to Avalos.
“People would go to work and literally when they came back they would find these boxes on the poles near their house,” Hsieh said.
A group of Bernal Heights residents have reportedly filed an appeal against a wireless facility from Clearwater that wants to place several antennas on top of Bernal Hill. The group has the support of six supervisors, according to a document.
Hsieh said residents are mostly concerned with potential health problems. However, the Federal Communications Commission sets guidelines for cell phone antennas, and local agencies cannot take health into consideration when a project is proposed. As a result, many residents instead argue that the antennas are simply undesirable for their neighborhoods.
The health affects of radiation from cell phone antennas are still being studied, and so far a project can be approved as long as the amount of radiation emitted meets FCC standards.